Main content

    South Asian Children's Health

    Hardening of the Arteries Starts Early

    Studies have shown that fat starts depositing in the walls of the arteries during childhood and adolescence. Because South Asians develop heart disease an average of five to 10 years earlier than other ethnic groups, this dangerous process may begin very soon after birth.
    Back to top

    Parents: Role Models for Good Health

    As a parent, if you already have risk factors such as diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity or existing heart disease, there is a good chance that you may pass these same high-risk genes onto your children. It is important that you encourage healthy eating habits and emphasize regular exercise as early as possible to prevent these risk factors from developing. If you smoke, eat a less than ideal diet and/or don't exercise, it is likely that your children will pick up at least one of these harmful habits.
    Back to top

    Overcoming Cultural Myths

    When a South Asian child is born, parents are immediately bombarded by family members and friends with advice about nutrition and proper feeding habits. Should you breastfeed or give your child formula? When should you start your child on solid foods? Should you feed cold foods to your child if he or she has a cold? The list of questions is endless. We have created this section to help parents understand basic nutritional principles for their children and to encourage healthy eating habits that will last a lifetime. However, all individuals involved in your child's care (parents, grandparents, caretakers, etc.) need to be properly educated.
    Back to top

    Nutrition for the First Year of Life

    The table below provides nutritional choices for the first year of life. Breast milk is better than formula for many reasons. It is easier for the baby to digest; mom's antibodies are passed to the baby through breast milk, which protects baby from many infections; and it may protect against allergies, asthma, obesity and sudden infant death syndrome. You should not give your baby whole cow's milk before 12 months of age.

    You do not need to start your child on solid foods until 6 months of age. Be sure to introduce one food at a time by giving a new food for four to five days before offering another new food. Try each food at least eight to 10 times over a long period of time before determining that your child does not like it. If you have a family history of food allergies, please discuss with your pediatrician when and how to start your child on solid foods.
    Back to top

    Feeding Guidelines for the First Year of Life

      Breast Milk or Formula Dry Infant Cereal with Iron Fruits and Vegetables Meats and Protein Foods Snacks
    Birth to 6 months As often as your baby desires. At least 8 times in 24 hours. Do not give baby water. None None None 
    6 to 9 months As often as your baby desires.Most babies will have between 3-5 nursings or formula feeds/day. Start with *single grain, iron fortified cereal, 1-2 tbsp/day mixed with formula or milk. Then gradually increase to 5 to 8 tbsp and start mixed-grain, iron fortified cereal. *Offer vegetables and fruits one at a time. Puree and strain them or use baby food from jars. Start with 1-2 tbsp one to two times a day and increase to 2 to 4 tbsp two times a day as needed to satisfy baby. Start pureed daal (lentils). At 7 to 8 months, start 1-2 tbsp/day of pureed meat, fish, cheese, tofu or other protein food. 
    9 to 12 month As often as your baby desires. Most babies will have between three to four nursings or 24 to 32 oz. of formula per day. Whole grains, such as breads, and unsweetened cereals; ¼ to ½ cup/day mashed potatoes, upmaa, bread or chapati two times per day. 3-4 tbsp mashed, soft, bite-sized pieces of fruit and vegetables each day. Introduce more texture in table foods or use stage three jar foods. 1-3 tbsp/day of meat, fish, cheese, tofu or other protein food. Low in sugar O-shaped cereals such as cheerios, toast and crackers. Later can add cottage cheese and pieces of cooked green beans to above.

    Back to top

    South Asian Food Pyramid for Children (1 to 5)

    Use the South Asian Food Pyramid as a guide to maximize your children's nutrition. Remember, though, that children's appetites vary from day to day, so allow your child to decide whether and how much to eat. Do not to force feed or make food rules. Make an appointment with your pediatrician or dietitian if you have further questions or concerns.

    For more information, take a look at our South Asian Food Pyramid for Children (1 to 5).
    Back to top

    Feeding Behavior: Establish Good Habits

    Many determined South Asian mothers insist that their children eat every last bite on their plates. Your child should enjoy eating — not fear it. Setting unrealistic goals about how much your child should eat is a very common problem. Use the tables above to help you understand your child's daily nutritional requirements and establish healthy eating behavior as early as possible. Your child does not need adult servings to grow. Understanding your child's limits will not only prevent you from overfeeding your child, but it will also alleviate the stress of thinking your child has been underfed. Listed below are a few tips.

    • Children older than one like structure and predictability. Establish regular meal and snack times that are adequately spaced out.

    • Children like to feel like adults. Have your child sit at the family table as early as possible. Encourage self-feeding as soon as the child is ready.

    • Let your child get involved in preparing for meals (for example, washing vegetables or setting the table). This will make eating a more rewarding act for your child.

    • Avoid threats or punishment if the child will not eat. This will only create a negative association with eating.

    • Avoid distractions when eating, such as television.

    • You may need to introduce each new food 20 to 30 times before deciding it suits your child's taste.

    • Do not force your child to try a new food, but allow them to learn to creep up on it without feeling pressure to eat or even taste it. Kids eat better when they are in a pressure-free environment.

    • Make eating fun. Cut food into different shapes using cookie cutters. Children love to dip, so use peanut butter and various flavorful sauces such as yogurt or chutneys

    Back to top